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Champs Sports Bowl ticket sales have been poor

By Jack Bogaczyk

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It seems there's already a bit of a shocker involving West Virginia and  the Champs Sports Bowl ... and it has nothing to do with the Mountaineers having a lame duck head coach in Bill Stewart.

WVU's first bowl trip to Orlando, Fla., for the Dec. 28 night game against North Carolina State hasn't exactly had Mountaineer faithful flocking to the ticket window.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, when the WVU Coliseum ticket office closed following the men's basketball win over Cleveland State, WVU had sold only a bit more than one-third of its bowl allotment of 12,500 tickets.

Matt Wells, WVU's sports marketing director, said the school has sold only 4,403 tickets. That number is in stark contrast to past years, when the Mountaineers were known for traveling in significant numbers at bowl time.

Wells said that with about 1,000-1,200 additional tickets to be used by the band, in the players' allotment and for the official WVU travel party, West Virginia has about 7,000 unsold tickets for the game in eight days.

Prior to this year, West Virginia's worst bowl ticket sales in its run of nine straight seasons of reaching the postseason was about 10,000 for the Fiesta Bowl to finish the 2007 season - and that was across the country, in Glendale, Ariz., following Coach Rich Rodriguez's exit to Michigan.

In recent bowl trips to Florida, West Virginia has sold 24,600, 10,600, 15,700 and 14,750 for four Gator Bowl trips from 2003 through last season.

WVU sold its allotment of 15,000 for the 2005 Sugar Bowl in Atlanta, and its two trips to bowls in Charlotte, N.C., in 2002 and 2008, sold more than 35,000 (2002) and 18,800 (2009).

Wells said the lack of support for the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers (9-3) seems to be mostly due to the game's midweek date and its proximity to Christmas - or at least that's why WVU athletic officials are hearing from the buying public.

"We thought we'd do better than this, obviously," Wells said, pointing out the different destination for WVU's postseason and the other attractions in the Orlando area. "It's kind of surprising to us."

Wells said there has been no indication that the sluggish sales are related to last week's announcement that Dana Holgorsen would replace Stewart as head coach as early as 2012, after serving as offensive coordinator and "coach in waiting" next season.

North Carolina State has sold about 9,000 tickets from its allotment of 13,500 as the ACC representative in the game.

One of the reasons the Champs Sports officials selected West Virginia to play in the bowl as the Big East team was the school's history of fan support at bowl time.

Bowl officials were said to be deciding between WVU's potential fan draw and the national television exposure Notre Dame might bring in choosing the Mountaineers over the Fighting Irish (7-5).

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WHEN THE Mountaineers returned to workouts Saturday to prepare here for the Champs sports Bowl, starting cornerback Brandon Hogan still wasn't able to practice. Hogan suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in WVU's Dec. 4 victory over Rutgers.

WVU head football trainer Dave Kerns has called the injury "a third-degree sprain of (the ACL), which would be a complete tear."

Hogan has been undergoing treatment, and it remains unclear whether the veteran corner will be able to play against N.C. State, which features quarterback Russell Wilson in a pass-dominated attack.

More on Hogan's status is expected to be revealed Tuesday, when Stewart holds a pre-bowl news conference here before the team leaves later in the week for Orlando.

*  *  *

WHEN WVU safety Robert Sands was named an All-America selection last week by The Sporting News, he proved to be a rarity.

Sands, a junior who is expected to make himself available for the NFL Draft, is one of only two Big East Conference players named an All-America first team pick among the five prominent selection panels the NCAA uses to determine consensus or unanimous All-America status.

Those five are Associated Press, coaches (AFCA), writers (FWAA), Walter Camp and The Sporting News. The lack of Big East players picked as first teamers across that spectrum is another indicator on how weak the league was regarded in 2010.

Besides Sands, the only other Big East player on one of those five first teams was Pitt defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard, who made the coaches' squad.

Since 2003, Sands is the fifth Mountaineer to make at least one of those five NCAA-recognized teams, following linebacker Grant Wiley (consensus, 3 teams in 2003), center Dan Mozes and running back Steve Slaton (both unanimous, 5 teams in 2006) and offensive tackle Ryan Stanchek (FWAA team in 2007).

*  *  *

IN MEN'S basketball, there is no change in the indefinite suspension Coach Bob Huggins handed to former Poca, Mountain State Academy and Logan High guard Noah Cottrill.

Huggins suspended Cottrill on Oct. 29, "for conduct unbecoming of a Mountaineer," the coach said then.

The university or Huggins have not announced why Cottrill, the 2009-10 Evans Award winner as the state high school player of the year, has missed the first semester of the season. Privacy laws involving students come into play there.

After WVU's win over Cleveland State on Saturday, Huggins was asked if there were any change in Cottrill's situation.

"I'll tell you where I am," Huggins said bluntly. "I think we should all be concerned with the people who truly do want to represent this university and who truly do want to represent this great state. If you do, you're going to do the right thing.

"That's where it is with me. No, there is no update."

Cottrill was listed on the team roster for Saturday's game was listed in the game notes distributed to the media. It could not be determined whether he is enrolled as a WVU student for the semester that begins next month.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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